Jealousy

In Paul’s letter to the church of Corinth, chapter 13 is fairly plain sailing up until verse 8. We hear the teaching of Scripture on love as patient and kind, but then Paul seems to spoil it all.

Suddenly we move into a negative way of stating things. We have heard what love is, now we hear what it is not.

Paul punctures over optimistic views of human nature that think all we need is a little bit of tinkering around the edges, a little more education, a few psychological tricks and some self-talk.

He has nothing of the empty optimists like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the philosophical father of both the 18th Century movement known as the Enlightenment and the French Revolution of the 1790s. It was he who established the cult of the individual and freedom of expression in education, announcing, ‘I felt before I thought.’

The individual was full of pristine innocence, free of impulses to exploit others, to be selfish, violent and so on. Sin had no place in Rousseau’s naïve worldview, which like Nietzsche laid a basis for totalitarian thought.

However the apostle Paul knew better. He knew that there was a deeper problem, one that would lead to bombings in Omagh[1], Kenya[2] and Tanzania[3].

He knew Presidents would engage in adulterous behaviour and then deny it, and finally only make a lame admission after being shown to be a perjurer and obstructing justice.

The Lord showed Paul that human nature has a tragic flaw in it that is biased towards excessive self-interest at the expense of others and of the Lord.

It was seen when Adam and Eve turned from God to one another, making the gift of a garden into a place for hiding from the giver. The doctrine of original sin is not about how innovative we can be, but that human nature has inherited flaws in every generation that makes sin seem attractive and God’s will unattractive.

Only a cross and the Son of God could make a final way out. For love is not jealous, boastful, proud or rude.

Let’s run with one of these – jealousy.

In looking at this teaching about love, it is helpful to consider the opposites. So the opposite of kindness is probably meanness or pettiness. The opposite of patience is impatience or irritability.

What might the opposite of jealousy be? I think it might be security; we are secure enough to delight in another’s success. It might be freedom. Love gives permission to a friend or a spouse to have good friendships without our becoming possessive or fearful.

Love frees, releases, blesses. Jealousy grasps, fears and is easily threatened.

Jesus is attacked by the Pharisees because they are jealous of Him and His influence with the people, His teaching and His miracles. Pilate realizes this is Mark 15:10.

Jealousy destroys relationships; love heals and frees. Jealousy is different from envy. Envy is when I drive behind someone’s new Fairlane. The people we envy are no threat to us, the people we are jealous of are. Jealousy is less to do with things than people. Jealousy is a kind of fear of losing someone, a kind of pain of being left out of someone’s life. It might be by a beloved obsession with sport, gambling, a hobby, an organization, money or another person. Jealousy is the pain we feel when our role or position is threatened by someone close to us.

Perhaps what Hillary Clinton has been feeling. Yet jealousy has a good side and a bad side.

The Lord is said to be jealous. In Deuteronomy 6 it says, ‘Do not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who are all around you, because the LORD your God, who is present with you, is a jealous God.

He will not be dishonoured or have his people sell themselves short worshipping no gods or false gods. However most human jealousy is a little different.

There was a man of great virtue, holiness, love and grace. He frustrated the devil because there seemed to be no weak points. However one day the devil told him that his brother had just been appointed bishop of Alexandria in the Coptic Church of Egypt, and that did the trick, jealousy inflamed his heart.

One of the most powerful stories on jealousy in all of Scripture is that of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 37.

Joseph as a lad did not endear himself to his brothers when as a 17 year old he came home and brought his father Jacob bad reports about his brothers. Perhaps they had been chasing sheep or making home-brew. Whatever it was, they hated him.

Now if things were a little tense then, how much more when Joseph reported a dream he had had to the family. In it his brothers were bowing down to him. A second dream confirmed the first. Even his father was upset at this vanity and told him off because now it included Joseph’s mother and father in their knees.

Not knowing that one day Joseph would all save their livers from famine, his jealous brothers plotted to get rid of him. They sold him for 20 pieces of silver and proceeded to lie to their father saying an animal killed him. Jealousy had destroyed the moral fabric of the family, and yet as Joseph said to the brothers later when he was Pharaoh’s sidekick in Egypt, what he intended for evil, God intended for good.

So how can we keep jealousy out of our lives?

  1. Think of people you may have a little jealousy towards in terms of God’s purposes.

Do you remember John the Baptist? We wheel him in every advent for a few Sundays, but there was a time early on when Jesus’ following was greater than John’s for the first time. John’s disciples pointed this out and John replied ‘He must increase and I must decrease[4].’ In humility he saw the big picture.

So if someone is elected to an office in the church, and you are not, be glad for them and pray that they will fulfill God’s good purpose for them. The Lord will have other ways to use you, if you ever feel excluded from some positions. Or if your brother or sister does something better than you at something, pray that they in humility will be fulfilling God’s plan for their lives.

2. Recognize that love transcends jealousy.

In Corinth people were jostling for positions of power in the church. Paul tells them that love has better plans. Love is patient and waits for God’s call to come – love is kind and wants another to know God’s best for our lives. Love is not jealous.

3. Keep your relationships right.

If your spouse’s behaviour or a close friend troubles you, talk about it in love. And avoid ambiguity in your relationships with the complementary sex. Know your limit and boundaries and let your integrity be clear to all.

4. Reflect the Lord’s jealousy.

He so loves humanity that he is jealous of idols that cheat it. People serve lesser gods that are no gods. Remember Elijah’s words after he routed the false prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 19. He answered them with, ‘I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword.’

Love is zealous for the Lord, and not jealous for ourselves. Love is secure, granting freedom, blessing not imprisoning.

Let us love like that.

By George Robert Iles


[1] 15th August, 1998, Northern Ireland.

[2] 1998 Embassy Bombing.

[3] 1998 Embassy Bombing.

[4] John 3:30

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